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Best films of 2010

For film lovers, the end of each year brings with it certainty and hope — certainty that the coming year cannot boast better offerings than the one before, and hope that somehow the certainty is misguided and the coming year will show us what for. 2010 has proven to be no exception, serving up a Coen-stamped Western remake; a stunning neo-noir set in the forbidding, chilly Ozarks; a mind-warping, reality-bending tale of dreams within dreams from the creator of “Memento”; a bluntly comic and real story about a marriage that’s thoroughly average; and more, so much more.

It’s also the year that gave us Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sporting a tutu, a fourth Shrek film and a movie where grown women dress up like circus clowns (and never sweat) in the middle of the desert, but, hey, what can you do?

Here is one reviewer’s list of the true treasures 2010 — some usual suspects with, I hope, a few surprises thrown in:

1. “Winter’s Bone”

Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature in Debra Granik's neo-noir "Winter's Bone."

From “The Bill Engvall Show” to “Winter’s Bone” — the tale of young actress Jennifer Lawrence’s rise is an unusual one. But her fiery performance in Debra Granki’s second film ought to wipe clean the memory of that unfortunate TBS show. As Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old holding her broken family together and searching in earnest for her court-skipping dad, Lawrence is amazing. And that’s not even counting the stellar support character actor John Hawkes and relative no-name Dale Dickey provide as Ree’s suspicious, self-contained kin in the Ozarks. “Winter’s Bone” is neo-noir like you’ve never seen it before.


2. “The King’s Speech”

King George VI (Colin Firth) struggles to find his voice in the funny, poignant "The King's Speech."

Colin Firth’s loss to Jeff Bridges at the 2009 Oscars left a bad taste in the mouths of Firth’s many fans, and even some of Bridges’. “The King’s Speech” could be Firth’s redemption, for it features a performance (as King George VI, of all people) that’s no less droll, poignant and sometimes excruciatingly painful to watch. The actor’s piquant sparring matches with Geoffrey Rush — particularly those profanity-laden rants — are delightful and moving, while Helena Bonham Carter breaks out of her Tim Burton box. With some uncharacteristically claustrophobic cinematography thrown in, “The King’s Speech” is the total package.  


3. “Black Swan”

The quest for perfection sends Nina (Natalie Portman) into a tailspin of delusions in "Black Swan."

 The human mind is capable of unspeakable darkness — a fact most directors endeavor to ignore or shy away from or hide. Darren Aronofsky has embraced these depths in every film he’s made, but “Black Swan” might be his darkest work yet. Part character study, part tragedy, part psychological thriller and part near-Gothic horror film, “Black Swan” is all feeling and no restraint. That goes double for the lead performance of Natalie Portman, who rips herself in two so forcefully we’re left wondering if normal life is a possibility after this. 


4. “Restrepo”

In 2009, “The Hurt Locker” pushed a different kind of message about war: It is a drug. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s documentary “Restrepo,” about the year the two spent on assignment in Afghanistan with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, can’t be boiled down to a slogan. It’s more a real-time, live-action depiction not of the hell of war but of the hell war leaves behind, reflected painfully in the eyes of real soldiers, not actors.  


5. “Inception”

Christopher Nolan's "Inception" blurs the line between dreams and reality for Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio).

If there are limits to the imagination, Christopher Nolan does not know them, or refuses to acknowledge them. His films scramble about reality to the point it starts to look like visions, or dreams, or nightmares, or all of the above. “Inception” stands as his grandest undertaking, a true stretching of everything viewers expect about effects, cinematography and, well, gravity, in cinema. Nolan takes his actors — and us — so far into the world of dreams that we’re afraid to go to sleep. Or is it that we’re really afraid to wake up?


6. “True Grit”

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld make bonding a gritty, unsappy business in the Coens' "True Grit" remake.

If 2010 was the year of breakout young’un performances, Jennifer Lawrence ought to count Hailee Steinfeld as fierce competition for roles to come. Steinfeld blazed into filmgoers’ collective consciousness with her turn as vengeful, quick-witted Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” She fills up the screen with presence, even holding her own alongside Bridges, who makes Rooster Cogburn a dirtier, smellier sort of cowboy, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. She’s so good it takes you awhile to realize the movie she’s in is good enough to deserve her.


7. “Cairo Time”

In "Cairo Time," Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig make forbidden love look oh-so-tempting.

Patricia Clarkson has long been the darling of independent films where all the meaningful emotional transactions take place under the surface, not on top of it. In “Cairo Time,” she’s given the leading role and a leading man — Alexander Siddig — entirely capable of matching her quiet intensity and expressive face.  As two strangers thrown together by chance and surprised by the force of their chemistry, Siddig and Clarkson make Ruba Nadda’s mature, unforced love story set in Cairo crackle with unexpressed passion and rich, complex feeling.


8. “The Kids Are All Right”

The trials of marriage are universal and funny, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore prove in "The Kids Are All Right."

The sunset carriage ride, the goofy smiles and balmy honeymoons — “The Kids Are All Right” is interested in none of that foolishness. Instead, Lisa Cholodenko takes us into the uncertain and problematic middle, where old resentments turn new again and the feeling of being settled can inspire fear, not comfort. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, as married moms of two teen-agers searching for their biological father, find the little aches and gripes, the angry mutters and the snippets of joy found in every married couple’s day-to-day existence. Plus a gay porno or two.


9. “Solitary Man”

A middle-aged screw-up (Michael Douglas) offers bad counsel to a college student (Jesse Eisenberg) in "Solitary Man."

Even when he’s played the straight man, the hero, there’s always been a tantalizing air of caddishness about Michael Douglas that sneaks into the frames. He is suave and seductive without much discernible effort — qualities scriptwriter/director Brian Koppleman highlights in “Solitary Man,” the tale of a man in the winter of his life who uses a health scare as an excuse to scam his customers and philander his way out of his marriage and into a life spent chasing tail. And Douglas makes it all look so … unapologetically Douglas we can’t help but root for him.       


10. “The Social Network”

Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, right) lures Mark Zuckerberg to the dark side -- or does he? -- in "The Social Network."

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin wanted to make a movie about the guy who created Facebook. Now that film has been slapped with any number of grandiose labels, including “the voice of a generation.” Whether “The Social Network” fills that role is a matter of opinion; in the simplest terms, though, it is a well-acted and well-executed drama — and a tense, ominous one — about one of the most influential figures in recent memory. The fact that he’s not a terribly likable guy? Well, that just makes “The Social Network” all the more interesting.


Honorable mentions: “Shutter Island” (for the score, cinematography and a brilliant ensemble cast); “The Fighter” (for the strength of Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and Christian Bale’s performances); “Toy Story 3” (for bringing the best finale to a trilogy in, well … maybe ever); “Iron Man 2” (for the flat-out awesome smackdown between Whiplash and Iron Man at the Grand Prix; also Mickey Rourke’s 1,000 pronunciations of the word “bird”)

Special considerations: “Biutiful,” “Blue Valentine” — neither of which has been released in the Carolinas

15 Responses

  1. A solid list from a truly wonderful year at the movies – here’s to 2011!

  2. Jennifer Lawrence was on The Bill Engvall Show?! For shame.

    That’s one hell of a solid list there. Still need to see Solitary Man and Cairo Time, but anyone who puts Winter’s Bone at their #1 is awesome by me. Well done, yo.

  3. Glad to see the love for Inception. That really was one of the more original films of the year, that probably won’t get much respect from the Academy sadly.
    Great List, check out mine when you can!

  4. Someone else with some love for Restrepo! Happy to see it appear on some people list 🙂 Have yet to see The King’s Speech…

    • @ Mad Hatter — Here here! (Or is it supposed to be “hear hear”?)

      @ Aiden R. — Shocked the shit outta me too. I knew I knew her face from somewhere, and The Great Imdb revealed the truth. But who cares? “Winter’s Bone” is great neo-noir.

      @ Dan — Some people didn’t love “Inception.” We call those people “tools.”

      @ Castor — Actually, I think I saw “Restrepo” on your blog and thought “Hey, I should see that.” To sum up: I came, I saw, I loved, I listed. Go see “The King’s Speech” the second you get the chance.

  5. Great to see The King’s Speech appear so highly. Would love it to spoil the Social Network’s bubble at the Oscars.

  6. I didn’t think 2010 was a strong cinematic year, none of the films so far have been added to my favourites, which is how I judge a year. (Admittedly I have not yet seen everything I want to from 2010)

    Inception is in my tentative top 10 of 2010 releases, despite its flaws.

    Hey, if you loved Winters bone , I recommend the novel “Dark places” by Gillian Flynn. The atmosphere is similar. But be warned, it’s pretty disturbing!

    Quite a few of the hyped films of 2010 were not meaningful to me, Black swan & social network to name a couple, although good entertainment.

    Oh well, I should probably stick to independent films ( : I think I need to give Winters bone a 2nd chance at some point.

  7. Solid list indeed! Surprised to see the unabashed Iron Man 2 love, though.

    • @ Dan — You and me both. I’m the Colin Firth side of this rivalry…

      @ Hal — That Grand Prix showdown was aces — one of the most exciting and convincing fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

  8. […] Meredith has finally released her top 10 movies of 2010 (M. Carter @ The Movies) […]

  9. I’m liking the individuality of all the lists I’m reading. Not one top slot has been the same yet.

  10. I like seeing people make unique choices that make their top ten truly their top ten, all the better to separate themselves from everyone else. I haven’t seen Solitary Man, for example, but it’s shown up on a couple of top tens on the blogosphere so I think I might have to check it out.

    Restrepo was good, but I think as far as docs go Exit Though the Gift Shop stood above it for me. Which makes this year’s Best Documentary category kind of interesting.

    Other than that our lists are close. Black Swan really blew me away, and I think is one of the few films in the list that really can be called “great” with a capital “G”, and I’m sure Inception is one of those films we’ll be discussing ad nauseam for the rest of the decade and beyond. Of course I also loved, loved, loved Winter’s Bone, and so I can hardly say anymore good things about this list.

    Bring on 2011!

    • I never did see “Exit Thorugh the Gift Shop,” but everyone seems to love it so it’s going in the queue whenever it becomes available…

      I’m glad someone else would put “Winter’s Bone” on a pretty high pedestal. It had none of the glitz of “Black Swan,” none of the effects of “Inception,” but it still managed to floor me.

  11. Despite all the love “for The King’s Speech,” I was nevertheless hesitant to watch it. I finally did just 3 days ago and, to my surprise, I enjoyed it a lot. (And that’s saying something because I know next to nothing about British history…) I’m glad it made it near the top of your list.

    I still haven’t seen “Restrepo,” but since it’s on Play Now on Netflix, I’ll make sure to watch it this weekend. I’m also interested in watching “Cairo Time” because I love Patricia Clarkson. I wish I can say the same about “Solitary Man.”

  12. Great list! So far, I’ve only seen The Kids Are All Right, Inception and The Social Network. I am looking forward to the others, especially Cairo Time and The King’s Speech.


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